The Baltimore Ravens have had a busy offseason to this point. Business figures to pick up again this Wednesday when the free agency doors open and the 2019 league year officially begins.
In addition to all the moves detailed in the piece linked above, the Ravens announced a three-year, $18 million extension last Friday with blocking tight end Nick Boyle. Boyle figures to be the team’s third tight end on the depth chart, but the primary blocking tight end. With the switch to an offense centered around the running game, Boyle was a huge piece for the Ravens to keep.
The Ravens still have quite a few holes to fill as Wednesday approaches. The draft certainly represents an opportunity to fill some of these but if the Ravens are looking for proven commodities, free agency will be the place to strike.
The Ravens currently have about $20 million available in salary cap space. This is prior to the Joe Flacco trade becoming official which will open up an additional $10.5 million. Here are some positions the Ravens should be targeting heading into free agency and some potential players that could fit the need.
1) Guard and Center
The Ravens appear to be set on the offensive line at both tackle positions and the right guard slot with Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr locking down the tackle spots, and veteran Marshal Yanda holding down the fort at right guard. The rest of the offensive line is a work in progress as the Ravens look to upgrade the center and left guard positions.
Matt Skura was a converted guard that started all year for the Ravens at center last year and he looked as much. Skura was consistently blasted off the line of scrimmage, making life difficult for Flacco in the passing game early in the season and then Lamar Jackson later in the year.
When free agency opens, Matt Paradis of the Denver Broncos is one of the top centers on the market. Despite coming off of a fractured fibula in Week 9 last season, Paradis is in line for a big pay day as he established himself as one of the better centers in the league prior to injury.
Paradis will be the hot commodity, but the Ravens limited cap space will make him a tough catch. Look for the Ravens to be in on Paradis but keep an eye on Mitch Morse and John Sullivan as possible fall back options.
Lewis flashed in his rookie year, 2016, before missing all of 2017 with various injuries. He only suited up for 10 games last year and he cannot be relied upon to remain healthy or effective when he does get on the field.
Hurst figured to be a starter on the offensive line after signing a four-year, $17 million contract last offseason. What felt like an overpay for a back up linemen at the time has come to fruition. It appears Hurst is longed to be a swing/utility linemen, poised only to fill spots when the injury bug bites the Ravens.
Rodger Saffold of the Rams appears to be the best free agent left guard available. Saffold has missed just two games over the last three years. He does turn 31 in June which could be concerning for teams. Saffold also has had his most success in an outside zone system which could limit his fit in free agency. Outside of Saffold, this is not a free agent class rich with options at guard so this could be a position addressed in the draft.
2) EDGE/Outside Linebacker
But C.J. Mosley is an inside linebacker. And if the Ravens lose him, they will have to replace him via free agency. A hole that big can not be filled with the in-house replacements or a draft pick.
These things may be true, but in a league where getting to the pass rusher has become paramount, the Ravens would serve themselves well to upgrade their pass rush. Matt Judon will be the anchor of that group next season but the rest of the pass rush remains unsettled.
Za’Darius Smith is nearly a lock to depart after picking up a career-high 8.5 sacks in his contract year. Terrell Suggs could be back but Sizzle is 36 and is coming off his lowest sack season since 2009 when starting 10 or more games. Anyone seen Tyus Bowser or Tim Williams the last two seasons? The rising third year pros have a combined 5.5 sacks in their Ravens careers.
The Ravens need to look to add to this group and they should be taking a really long look at the recently released Justin Houston. The former Chief is 30 but is coming off a season in which he notched nine sacks in 12 games. He figures to be motivated after his release and could be a big piece if given a fresh start in Baltimore.
If the Ravens miss out on Houston, I’d like them to be included on Ezekiel Ansah. The former Lion has had injury concerns in two of the last three seasons and only played in seven games in 2018. Ansah will also be 30 in May which could make him a nice buy low candidate for the Ravens and their cap situation. When healthy Ansah has the potential for double digit sacks.
3) Free Safety
With Eric Weddle’s release last week, the Ravens lost a team leader, fan favorite, and defensive quarterback. With Tony Jefferson locking down the strong safety spot for the Ravens next season, the free safety position remains a need.
One of the names that has been linked to the Ravens since the Weddle release has been Tyrann Mathieu. Nicknamed “The Honey Badger”, Mathieu is one of the top free safeties on the market and is coming off a nice bounce-back season for the Houston Texans. The Texans are interested in re-signing Mathieu but the Ravens are one of their competitors. Mathieu has 13 career interceptions and is just 26.
If the Ravens miss out on Mathieu they could take a look at Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner is a converted corner that was not given the franchise tag for the Los Angeles Rams. He had a down year last season and could be available at a favorable price point for the Ravens.
It is also possible that the Ravens could be in on Baltimore native Adrian Amos. Amos ranked seventh among all safeties, according to Pro Football Focus. He recorded two interceptions and nine passes defensed last season for the Chicago Bears. His former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is now the head coach in Denver so many are projecting a reunion there. If not, look for the Ravens to be in the mix.
These are not the only needs for the Ravens as they hit free agency. They could be looking to bring in a veteran wide receiver to help with the departure of Michael Crabtree. Many think the Ravens could be in on the running back market as well. And obviously if Mosley leaves, inside linebacker would become a potential position of need.
But with the free agent season upon us, the Ravens would be best served to add to their interior offensive line, pass rush group, and defensive backfield.
Image Credit: Baltimore Feather